Experts see ‘desperation’ in Putin’s ‘swaying’ war leadership


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “mushy” decision this week to name a new leader for his invasion of Ukraine reflects a growing sense of desperation for the Kremlin, US experts say.

The appointment of former Chief of General Staff General Valery Gerasimov as general commander of the country’s so-called special military operation is causing global viewers to increasingly question Putin’s wartime strategy after a series of embarrassing losses on the battlefield since the summer.

But the switch, which includes the demotion of General Sergey Surovikin, head of the invasion since October, could also signal a coming escalation of Russia’s ruthless war tactics.

“I feel like Putin is reeling because he’s not getting what he wants,” former US ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor told The Hill.

“His army is failing. He’s trying to shake things up to get a better result, and that’s not the problem. … His army is unable to do what he wants due to all sorts of institutional, historical, corruption, competency reasons and the shaking up of the chain of command, I don’t think it will get him what he wants.”

That line of thinking was echoed by top Pentagon spokesman Brig. General Pat Ryder, who said Putin’s decisions point to continued logistical, leadership and manpower challenges for Russia in the fight, now nearly in its second year.

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Gerasimov’s promotion reflects “some of the systemic challenges the Russian military has faced since the beginning of this invasion,” Ryder told reporters on Thursday.

“We’ve talked about some of those things in terms of logistical issues, command and control issues, maintenance issues, morale and the major failure to achieve the strategic goals they’ve set for themselves,” he added.

The position was also voiced by former UK Chief of General Staff Richard Dannatt, who told Sky News last week that Putin’s decision to replace Surovikin with Gerasimov – just three months after the former took charge – can be seen as a “sign of desperation.”

Russia is trying to turn the tide of the war after months of struggle to make headway in the face of a vigorous Ukrainian counter-offensive that has regained thousands of square miles of Kremlin control.

Moscow has struggled for weeks to take over the eastern salt mining town of Soledar, a battle that was still being contested on Monday. While not expected to turn the tide of the war, a Russian victory would allow further progress in the Donetsk region and give Putin a symbolic victory.

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Amid the fighting on the ground, Russia also resumed rocket attacks on several Ukrainian cities for the first time in nearly two weeks on Saturday, a barrage that continued into Monday.

One of the hardest hit was Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, Dnipro, with at least 40 people, including three children, killed after a Kremlin cruise missile hit an apartment building, one of the deadliest attacks in the country. war, according to Ukrainian officials. Another 75 persons were injured in the attack and 46 are still reported missing.

Given Gerasimov’s new role, the new missile strikes seem to indicate that Russia is stepping up its tactics against Ukraine in an attempt to shift the conflict in Moscow’s favor.

Gerasimov “needs some kind of victory or a career ends in disgrace. This could well indicate some form of escalation,” tweeted Mark Galeotti from London consultancy Mayak Intelligence. “Not the nuclear option, but more mobilization or, perhaps more militarily logical but politically more dangerous, also the deployment of conscripts.”

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence, said Gerasimov’s new position was part of a goal to capture the Donbas region in early spring.

“Putin does not pay attention to reality. . .. And the next timeline he already defines for Gerasimov as, let’s say, the new leader of the war against Ukraine… This goal is to conquer Donbas and create a security zone there, but already in March,” Yusov told to the Ukrainian news center FREEDIM TV.

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While Moscow is not seen as promising for the battlefield outcome, Moscow’s setbacks and shifting leadership don’t make the country any less dangerous, warned John Herbst, a former US ambassador to Ukraine who now works with the Atlantic Council.

“The incompetence of the Russian military has now been thoroughly demonstrated,” Herbst told The Hill. “I don’t want to exaggerate that because they still have significant assets. They have much more ammunition and delivery systems than the Ukrainians and they have more men than the Ukrainians, and they are willing to let them die trying to get marginal pieces of territory.’

Herbst compared the change of leadership to political theater for Putin to deal with criticism of his military failures.

“Putin has a problem [and] he is happy to see others being blamed for his surgery’s failure. … As long as he shirks the criticism, he’s fine with it,” Herbst said.

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